What measures the best teacher? More than scores, study shows

Tue Jan 8, 2013 5:26pm EST
 
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By Stephanie Simon

(Reuters) - Effective teachers can be identified by observing them at work, measuring their students' progress on standardized tests - and asking those students directly what goes on in the classroom, according to a comprehensive study released Tuesday.

The three-year, $50 million Measures of Effective Teaching study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found it was difficult to predict how much students would achieve in a school year based on their teacher's years of experience or knowledge of pedagogical technique.

But researchers found they could pick out the best teachers in a school and even predict roughly how much their students would learn if they rated the educators through a formula that put equal weight on student input, test scores and detailed classroom observations by principals and peers.

Taken alone, each of those measures was fairly volatile. Judging teachers primarily by student performance on state tests, for instance, turned out to be highly unreliable, with little consistency from year to year. Judging them chiefly by a principal's observations failed to identify those teachers who could be counted on to boost student proficiency on state math and reading tests.

Combining all three measures into a properly weighted index, however, produced a result "teachers can trust," said Vicki Phillips, a director in the education program at the Gates Foundation.

The study comes at a time of bitter political wrangling over teacher evaluations in cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago - and provides ammunition for all sides.

Education reformers who have been pressing to dismantle tenure systems, which protect veteran teachers from layoffs, could take heart in the finding that seniority doesn't predict success in the classroom.

Yet the report also bolstered union leaders who have argued that teacher evaluations should not be tied so heavily to trendy "value-added measures," or VAM - complex algorithms that aim to gauge whether students do better or worse than expected on state tests after several months in a given teacher's classroom.   Continued...

 
The campus grounds of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle are pictured in this file photo from November 4, 2011. A three-year, $50 million study, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and released January 8, 2013, found that effective teachers can be identified by observing them at work, measuring their students' progress on state standardized tests -- and asking those students directly how much they're learning. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante/Files